There are very few attorneys that have the skills, knowledge, and experience to handle aviation cases. Aviation lawyers handle cases involving commercial airline crashes, general aviation (“GA”) small aircraft accidents, and disputes with aviation mechanics and other repair and maintenance shops. An aviation attorney
who is also a licensed and experienced pilot should be consulted and hired for representation in airplane crash cases due to the complexity and federal laws.
Airline crash cases require knowledge of the federal laws, FAA rules, and pilot techniques. Most of the relevant rules are found in the FAA Regulation, and in particular the Federal Aviation Regulations FARs. Another important resource for safe flight operations is the Aeronautical Information Manual AIM . Unfortunately, aircraft including helicopters and fixed wing airplanes tragically fall to earth and cause catastrophic injuries and death. The tragic incidents involve federal aviation laws and rules created by the federal government that supercede most state laws. The Federal Aviation Agency (“FAA”) and National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) are involved in the investigation, prosecution, and rulemaking. These incidents also require investigation of the pilots, their backgrounds, health conditions, training, credentials, flight currency in type and class of aircraft, and compliance with all FAA rules. Were the proper weather briefings obtained, was the weather property reported. The repair shop and actual technicians must be investigated for flaws or overlooked maintenance. While pilot error is more common in small private plane crashes, it is usually mechanical error that brings down an airliner or corporate jet.
However, there seems to be a disturbing new wave of large jet crashes caused by pilot error. Several incidents involve unsafe flight into weather conditions, runway overruns, and flight into terrain. Several factors may be contributing to pilot error incidents. Unfortunately, commercial pilots increasingly have less experience. The mandatory retirement age is 60 years. Thus, many of our most experienced pilots, trained by the United States Navy, Air Force, and Marines, are forced into retirement by the airlines. Thus more of the airline’s pilots are civilian pilots without the benefits of military experience and flight time. Another factor is the cost cutting by airlines recently, and furloughs taking pilots off line for months or years. The airline, charter company, and corporate jet company will be responsible for all losses related to this kind of crash. Other crashes involve improper maintenance and design defects. In such cases, the maintenance company (if third party independent contractors), the airplane manufacturer, and the individual parts manufacturer may be held liable for the airplane crash.
More often, airplane crashes involve smaller piston powered propeller airplanes. Small airplane crashes can be caused by similar pilot error or mechanical problems. But the insurance may be limited so it is very important to identify all potentially liable parties, including the pilot, airplane owner, leasing and rental businesses, engine and avionic mechanics, flight school, fuel provider, and other related companies. An experienced aviation attorney will also need to perform a thorough asset search regarding the pilot and airplane owner in case the insurance policies are not adequate to compensate the injury and property damage victims.
Many airplane crashes involve flight in Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC); and during flight under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Thus an aviation attorney that is not only a licensed pilot, but also has an instrument rating, is recommended for an airplane crash case.